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Showing posts from January, 2013

What if...?

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I was just going to include this story with others in another linkdump on Saturday, but the more I've thought about it, the madder I have become...
After David Cameron announced yesterday at Prime Minister's question session in the House of Commons, a Downing Street source is reported to have said that food banks were to be welcomed as an example of "the big society"; so far, so predictable.
But then she is said to have added:
"Benefit levels are set at a level where people can afford to eat. If people have short-term shortages, where they feel they need a bit of extra food, then of course food banks are the right place for that. But benefits are not set at such a low level that people can't eat." The last statement may be currently true, although with below inflation increases to benefits already proposed by the government for the next three years against increasing food, fuel and transport costs, together with announcements today about council tax inc…

Praying Pastors or Mini-Messiahs?

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Another wee excerpt from Peterson's "The Contemplative Pastor":"People would rather talk to the pastor than to God and so it happens that without anyone actually intending it, prayer is pushed to the sidelines.  And so pastors, instead of practicing prayer, which brings people into the presence of God, enter into the practice of messiah: we will do the work of God for God, fix people up, tell them what to do, conspire in finding the shortcuts by which the long journey to the Cross can be bypassed since we all have such crowded schedules right now. People love us when we this. It is flattering to be put in the place of God. It feels wonderful to be treated in this godlike way. And it is work that we are generally quite good at." There is so much packed into a few lines here... but it essentially comes down to how we as pastors model things for those who have been entrusted to our care. Do we model  The Primacy of Prayer, orThe Minister as Mini-Messiah? Yesterda…

A Subversive Kingdom

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Following on from yesterday and Peterson'scomments on the subversive power of parable, his comments on subversion itself are worth noting:
"Three things are implicit in subversion. One, the status quo is wrong and must be overthrown if the world is going to be livable. It is so deeply wrong that repair work is futile. The world is, in the word insurance agents use to designate our wrecked cars, totaled. Two, there is another world aborning that is livable. Its reality is no chimera. It is in existence, though not visible. Its character is known. The subversive does not operate out of a utopian dream but out of a conviction of the nature of the real world.Three, the usual means by which one kingdom is thrown out and another put in its place — military force or democratic elections — are not available. If we have neither a preponderance of power nor a majority of votes, we begin searching for other ways to effect change. We discover the methods of subversion. We find and welcome…

Peterson on Parable... with a wee something thrown in by me...

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In his book "The Contemplative Pastor" (I'm only 20% of my way through this so there's plenty more to come on this strand) Peterson says:
“Jesus’ favorite speech form, the parable, was subversive. Parables sound absolutely ordinary: casual stories about soil and seeds, meals and coins and sheep, bandits and victims, farmers and merchants. And they are wholly secular: of his forty or so parables recorded in the Gospels, only one has its setting in church, and only a couple mention the name God. As people heard Jesus tell these stories, they saw at once that they weren’t about God, so there was nothing in them threatening their own sovereignty. They relaxed their defenses. They walked away perplexed, wondering what they meant, the stories lodged in their imagination. And then, like a time bomb, they would explode in their unprotected hearts. An abyss opened up at their very feet. He was talking about God; they had been invaded!...

Parables subversively slip past our def…

The Return of the Saturday Supplement

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It's been a while since I did a round up of interesting things wot I found on t'interweb but was spurred on to do one this week on the back of two strands that have come out of the current "flags" issue in Belfast. Both are by people who previously worked with the two Methodist missions in Belfast: former East Belfast Mission Youth Worker, Harriet Long, and former club culture outreach worker with Belfast Central Mission Dave Magee.
After a couple of posts on her own feelings about the protests and how they were impacting on East Belfast, Harriet then started a short series giving voice to some women in that area coming at the issue from diverse perspectives, concluding with this one from a girl in the Catholic Short Strand area. Dave has, for many years now, been working on peace-building and non-violent responses to problems in loyalist communities, particularly in North Down, and the flags protest prompted him at long last to start blogging from his experience...…

The Busy Pastor and the Adulterous Wife

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A title like that should draw a little bit of interest (although I must say that the site has been taking more than normal hits recently - so thank you to those who have been forwarding my ramblings to others - I am deeply indebted to you)...
However it is influenced by some comments which Peterson makes in "The Contemplative Pastor" where he begins by saying that
'The one piece of mail certain to go unread into my wastebasket is the letter addressed to the "busy pastor." Not that the phrase doesn't describe me at times, but I refuse to give my attention to someone who encourages what is worst in me.'
As a busy pastor just about ALL unsolicited mail goes straight to recycling unless it has something that will REALLY capture my attention... If you are reading this then my title has worked for you in your busy life...
I regularly come down with what a friend describes as harassed priest syndrome, where you arrive late at one meeting only to have to leave…

Definitions...

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"If I, even for a moment, accept my culture's definition of me, I am rendered harmless."
When Peterson makes this statement in "The Contemplative Pastor" he is specifically referring to pastors... but is it not true of everyone?
In response to my post last week offering an operating manual for ministers, one friend (and wife of a Methodist minister) suggested that it was not just ministers who needed such an operating manual, but teachers, doctors, lawyers and other professions who are frequently faced with unrealistic expectations... My response was that not only was that true, but applied to those outside of the traditional professions too. I'm actually very wary of special pleading on the part of ministers especially when it comes to their long working hours and busy schedules (more on that with my next post based on this book), given that we live in a world where so many people are subject to tremendous pressure and unrealistic expectations. We as minis…

Passion and Compassion

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Time and again over the past couple of years I've come back to the issue of compassion, be it because of a perceived lack of compassion within the church particularly in this wee part of the world, or because I find it hard to practice any sort of self-compassion (the latter perhaps conditioned by the former).
Well yesterday, in my re-reading of Peterson's "The Contemplative Pastor" I came across his "definition" of a pastor as: "a person who was passionate for God and compassionate with people." Snappy. It has a "mission" statement/soundbite character to it, uncharacteristic of the usually forensically careful Peterson. But I'm trying to work out the implications of it. Passion usually refers to some powerful emotion... Whilst it may be focussed on a person, or thing, often it can become intensely selfish - the person or thing may be the object of the passion but ultimately it is all about satisfying the emotional needs of the perso…

The Political Potency of Prayer

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Partly as a personal response to some of the issues raised in my (surprisingly popular) post last week prompted by some of the points of annoyance I encounter in my calling as a pastor/preacher, I thought I would return to Eugene Peterson's "The Contemplative Pastor" as part of my daily devotions for a wee while... And a few lines in I found a whole collection of thoughts piling up which required more mature reflection... so in the absence of any ability on my part to do such a thing, I thought I'd blog on a few of them... beginning, as we should with the discipline of prayer...
Peterson says: "Prayer is a subversive activity. It involves a more or less open act of defiance against any claim by the current regime..." In other words, prayer is not just an act of personal piety or a corporate ritual, but is a profoundly revolutionary political activity. To continue my thoughts in yesterday's post, not only is prayer a pledge of allegiance to a kingdom tha…

Presidents, Principalities, Powers and Prophets

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Today President Obama takes his second inaugural oath for the second time, due to the vagaries of the 20th January falling on a Sunday. This is an event of immense importance for me, even though I am an insignificant blogger bashing away on his keyboard in the backwoods of Belfast, Northern Ireland, and could have no part in the election of this man. But there is no doubt that his decisions ultimately make as much, if not more, difference to my life as do those of the politicians I am able to elect who sit in the big white house on the hill little over a mile from where I am writing, or the contentious clowns we have managed to elect to the council that sits in Belfast City Hall down the road... There has been some controversy over who will lead in public prayer during the inauguration, but I was encouraged this morning by this prayer by Scot McKnight for the President, and perhaps I could do with using a variation on it as I pray for my political representatives at a local, provinci…

An Operating Manual for Ministers (at least this one)

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A wee while back I posted a piece on Facebook by American Pastor Gary Brinn, purporting to be a list of "Secrets that your Pastor Can't Share in a Sermon". It's a variation on a theme that has been doing the rounds of the internet for years (and probably existed in print form before that). I suggested, and then rapidly retracted the suggestion, that maybe I would publish my own list... Well, after sober reflection (?) here are a few things that, were I an electronic device, would be printed in 6 languages on a large piece of paper; no-one ever reads them but most users work them out eventually. By the same token, most of my congregation have worked most of these out with me, whether or not I have explicitly stated them... however many of them probably apply to others, and might help anyone unfortunate enough to end up with me as their cleric in the future:

1) Your jokes about me only working one day a week are not funny... not even the first time round... and that wa…

An Unhealthy Political Diet

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There has been a lot of fuss (and a fair amount of humour) at the news that many cheap burgers in various supermarket chains have a large percentage of horse in them. Not only would many Europeans be surprised at the furore concerning this, I was flabbergasted a couple of nights ago, when a vox-pop of some shoppers had them saying that they were really appalled because it made them wonder "what were they really feeding to their children." Given that they were already feeding them the lowest-priced meat products available this is perhaps a question they should have been asking earlier.
A friend of mine is behind the current health campaign in Northern Ireland pushing for weight loss and a healthier diet. I fear he may be on a beaten docket with me and many others in this province.
However, recent weeks and particularly the edifying experience that the Nolan Show on BBCNI was on Wednesday night, made me think that actually there is another dietary problem here in Northern Ire…

Green shoots

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My post of yesterday seems to have struck a chord or two given the amount of traffic it has generated on the site... That's encouraging, as I was very reluctant to post it, because, contrary to popular perception I'm not grumpy about everything all the time. I'm forever telling my congregation that we are good news people not bad news, so in contrast to my 12 mid-winter gripes of yesterday, here are 12 signs of hope that keep me going. They are not direct responses to the issues I raised, but are examples of the things that remind me that, in the midst of a fallen world, God in his grace is at work redeeming and renewing that which he once looked on and called good... So here goes:

The commitment of Christian people across the UK to help the poorest in society through food pantries and other initiatives, including the Trussell Trust Foodbanks which have grown into a 300 strong network over the past 13 years, with 100 being established in the last year... with, hopefully, o…

I'm Tired

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I'm tired...

I'm tired of people in power laughing and joking over capping benefits for the poor, sneering at them as "shirkers" or "skivers" in contrast to "strivers"...I'm tired of the wealthy bleating about losing child benefit, and fuel tax hikes that will make their gas-guzzling 4x4's marginally more expensive to fill up...I'm tired of an economic system that is based on greed and dissatisfaction... conspicuous consumption that is destroying the planet, impoverishing more and more people (while a few get richer), and causing profound depression among those who are never content...I'm tired of a Christian sub-set of that system that has bought into it uncritically, and constantly seeks to sell me the next big spiritual breakthrough in a book/programme/speaker/event...I'm tired of all the strands of the media, music, film, TV, newspapers, internet et al that are filled to overflowing with the celebration of ignorance, amoral…

2 Covenants

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On one of the radio talk-shows this week (don't know which one as I didn't put the radio on and am not even sure at which point in the week I heard it) one of the callers, who was a participant in the current "flag-protests" (although we all know that it's not just about a flag) claimed that he and his fellow protesters were more faithful to the 1912 Ulster Covenant than those Unionist leaders in Stormont sitting in government with the "enemies of Britain."
There could be some truth in that. Take a look again at the words and context of the 1912 Covenant.
BEING CONVINCED in our consciences that Home Rule would be disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster as well as of the whole of Ireland, subversive of our civil and religious freedom, destructive of our citizenship, and perilous to the unity of the Empire, we, whose names are underwritten, men of Ulster, loyal subjects of His Gracious Majesty King George V, humbly relying on the God whom our father…

VM CD Prize 2012 Addendum

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Doh! 
Just realised that I did actually buy a couple of CDs during the year... ie 2 (big spender me!): namely Karine Polwart's "Traces" which I wittered on about at length earlier in the year, and her old album "Scribbled in Chalk". Also I was given Jools Holland's "Golden Age of Song" for Christmas, which has some cracking tracks on it. But the VM award for best CD of 2012 really does have to go to "Traces". It is also up for a real award on the Radio 2 Folk Awards, although it will probably have been steamrollered in the public vote by the behemoth that is the faux-folk "Bellowhead". Karine is also up for an individual award, and "The King of Birds" has been nominated as best song. So she might get a real prize rather than a virtual VM one... If you want to find out how brilliant she is check out her session on Mark Radcliffe's new folk show on Radio 2 next Wednesday at 7pm
OK that is enough of 2012... Got to g…

Virtual Methodist Awards for the Best of the Rest 2012

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After my trawl through my 2012 bookshelves yesterday, here's my awards for a hotchpotch of other categories:

BEST FILM In terms of ratings that I gave to films this year on the Flixster site, there would be a four way tie this year, between "The Dark Knight Rises", the final (?) part of Christopher's intelligent Batman trilogy, "Avengers Assemble" the first outing of Marvel's finest, and "Pirates: An Adventure with Scientists", which saw Aardman at its anarchic best, and the slow-burning "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy". If I were to include those films I saw on video, then perhaps "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" might be in with a shout, or even "Moneyball", which must have been good to allow me to overcome my antipathy to Brad Pitt. But I'm going to stick to cinema releases, and if pushed I would probably say that "The Dark Knight Rises" gets my vote, as the most complete and complex film of the last ye…